Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio are top-selling white wines, with Chardonnay 31 percent and Pinot Grigio 21 percent of the share.
They are also the leading white wine grapes that make dry whites, so understanding the difference between Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio is helpful for wine drinkers.
Main Differences Between Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio
Placing a bottle of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio side by side, you may not notice any differences between the two. But there are distinct differences, but the main ones clearly define which one to choose based on preference in taste.
The production time for Chardonnay is nine to 12 months, while Pinot Grigio takes six months. Chardonnay tastes buttery with toasted oak and vanilla. Pinot Grigio is light, crisp, and floral.
Pair a Chardonnay with shellfish, creamy soups, and meats, but Pinot Grigio will go with almost anything. It’s highly versatile. Generally, Chardonnay is sweeter than Pinot Grigio since Grigio is more acidic.
Producing Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio
Burgundy, France, is well-known for producing the red grape Pinot Noir, yet vineyards and wineries produce more Chardonnay. Sixty percent of Burgundy’s production is Chardonnay compared to 30 percent of Pinot Noir.
Pinot Grigio is a famous wine in Italy and the second most popular white wine in the United States. The grapes are mutations of the Pinot Noir grape from Burgundy. The French say Pinot Gris, but it’s still the same grape.
The grape’s distinct grey to pink color gives the name Gris, meaning grey in French, and Grigio, meaning grey in Italian. The grapes grow in California, Slovenia, and Australia. They are the same grapes, but each region differs in the wine style.
Chardonnay is a green-skinned grape that adapts well to most climates and soil. Thus, the wine grape grows in almost every terroir. And is the most broadly distributed wine grape in the world.
Winemakers may blend Chardonnay with Pinot Noir to make sparkling wines, but they rarely make white blends with Chardonnay.
Yet, the grapes play a significant role in the production of Champagne and other sparkling wines, like Trento and Crémant. The “Blanc de Blancs” on Champagne labels usually means 100 percent Chardonnay.
Based on the winemaker’s preference, Pinot Grigio wine is either light or medium-bodied, with intense acidity to almost full-bodied with a rich texture. Usually, they are dry, unoaked, and unblended.
Variations of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio grapes mature faster than Chardonnay grapes, with Grigio usually the first varietals harvested each season, sometimes in late August. The early harvest captures the right amount of acid, bringing out the fruity flavors.
The location of where Chardonnay grows affects its flavor. In warmer climates, the wine has tropical fruit flavors like mango, papaya, or pineapple with mellow acidity.
In colder climates, the flavors are citrus, pear, peach, and apple with vivid acidity. The buttery and oak flavors of some Chardonnays come from the choices of the winemakers, not dependent on the grape.
Pinot Grigio takes six months until it’s ready and bottled, so the wine arrives in early spring or late winter. Once bottled, you can drink it immediately, chilled around 45 to 53° Fahrenheit. Its shelf-life is approximately three to five years.
Chardonnay has a long process and is most likely three-quarters complete around the time the winery bottles Pinot Grigio. Chardonnay wines generally don’t benefit from aging. And the wine has a shelf life of about ten years.
That’s if it remains in a temperature-controlled environment, around 50° Fahrenheit, but served chilled around 43 to 50° Fahrenheit.
Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio Similarities
The white wines almost look the same in a wine glass with a pale-yellow color, and that is where the similarities end. They can each have fruit flavors, depending on the winemaker’s choices.
Pinot Grigio has lime, pear, lemon, white nectar, and apple flavors, while Chardonnay has apples, papaya, pineapple, and lemon flavors. Yet, you can find a creamy Chardonnay, oaky with fresh cut grass.
Comparing Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio
- Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio have a pale-yellow color.
- Both are white wines.
- Pinot Grigio is light and tart, while Chardonnay has a hint of fresh grass.
- Pinot Grigio can have fruit flavors, and Chardonnay can have tropical fruit flavors.
- Chardonnay is a buttery, full-bodied, rich-tasting wine with oak aromas and flavors. Pinot Grigio is light, delicate, and generally a mild to medium dry white wine.
- Chardonnay is drier than Pinot Grigio.
- Pinot Grigio is tangy and light, making it a great summer wine.
- Chardonnay is a sensitive grape, producing unique characteristics — a heavier wine.
- Chardonnay grows almost in any wine region, while Pinot Grigio is most well-known for cultivating in Italy, the United States, and Germany.
- Pinot Grigio has an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) ranging between 11.5 to 13.5 percent, while Chardonnay has ABV ranging between 13.5 to 15 percent.
You can track down the origins of Chardonnay back to Burgundy, France, in the regions of Macon to the village of Chardonnay. The wine grape remains widely grown in most areas. The variety developed its popularity in the 1970s and was synonymous with “white wine” in the United States.
The variety buds early and ripens early. It cultivates easily, rationalizing it as a favorite of winemakers. Chardonnay thrives in limestone and calcareous clay. The chief appeal is its versatility to a wide variety of winemaking techniques, so it’s also popular among growers.
Chardonnays in the cool climate have a leaner profile, with orchard, stone fruit, and fresh citruses like lemon, peach, apple, and pear. You’ll find these in Burgundy, France, and other regions. Chardonnay plays a significant role in Champagne as a blend.
Warmer-climate Chardonnay produces a riper fruit, like California, the producer of New World Chardonnay. But Australia and Oregon also cultivate high-quality versions. Winemakers worldwide apply malolactic fermentation, lees stirred or oak aged, thus imparting notes of cream, butter, toast, and baking spices.
Pinot Grigio Characteristics
You can trace the genetic roots of Pinot Gris (the French name for the wine) to Burgundy France and Southwest Germany as a lighter-skinned mutation from the Pinot Noir, a red grape.
There is hardly any Pinot Gris grown in Burgundy, but it is prevalent in France’s Alsace region, where the most celebrated versions grow.
The variety has spread into northern Italy, where it received its common name, Pinot Grigio, and New World areas such as Oregon. It also grows in Germany and where they call it Grauburgunder.
Pinot Gris wines from Alsace have a fleshy texture and are medium to full-bodied, offering a subtle stone and orchard fruit accented with spicy floral notes.
The best wines stay fresh though the grape has tendencies toward high alcohol and low acidity. Yet, the Italian Pinot Grigio differs so much that it’s hard to imagine it’s the same grape.
Bulk productions come from grapes picked early, preserving their high acidity at the sacrifice of flavor. More dedicated wines come from Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia-Giulia.
Here, the wines are generally light to medium-bodied, with mineral, stony notes occurring with floral, stone, and orchard fruit flavors.
How to Drink Chardonnay vs Pinot Grigio
When Chardonnay landed in California, it hit its prime, and its popularity has grown in the last forty or more years. Now, it’s probably the most well-liked white wine. Some say it’s well-liked because of the variety of flavors it can engage.
Based on where the growers cultivate the grape and how they ferment the wine, Chardonnay has a semi-sweet, sour, heady, or light taste. The wine is not a rich person’s drink, where you can get a good bottle for under $15.00.
It’s generally a dry wine that pairs well with poultry and seafood, such as scallops and lobster. It might amaze you that the wine also goes well with light red meat dishes — even good cheese pairs well with Chardonnay, from Gruyere, Brie to Provolone.
Chardonnays have a relatively short shelf life, so drink your bottle immediately. However, they can age for five to ten years or more, depending on the production of the wine.
Pinot Grigio will taste lovely if served chilled and with the right food. The wine is fruity enough that you can serve it as an apéritif, but the mineral and fresh wine goes well with classic Italian cuisine.
A chilled glass of Pinot Grigio goes nicely with minestrone, light casseroles, salads, pasta, mild cheese, fish, and seafood. A spicier or richer Pinot Grigio may go well with poultry, light roasts, grilled fish, and mushroom dishes.
Winemakers have also crafted a Pinot Grigio flavor that goes well with strong cheese or game dishes. All in all, the wine goes well anything. You can even bring a bottle to a summer barbecue party.
If you find a Pinot Grigio that is a late harvest wine, serve it with high-fat blue cheeses and desserts with almonds, marzipan, and honey. It’s a rare treat to find a late harvest, Pinot Grigio since growers traditionally harvest them early.
Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio Alternatives
Sometimes you can grab a Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, or they’re not on the wine list, so look for the alternatives that share the most characteristics, and you can equally enjoy your dinner or outing.
Chardonnay comes in two categories — oaked and unoaked.
Viognier is a fabulous choice if you love the oaked Chardonnay. Viognier comes from several regions worldwide but mainly grows in the Rhone Valley of France. Like Chardonnay, Viognier is lush and full-bodied with a smooth transition.
Apple and pear aromas and flavor dominate a Chardonnay, whereas tangerine, apricot, and florals dominate a Viognier. Viognier is pricier if it comes from the Rhone region.
Albarino is an unoaked wine as a light-bodied, crisp, and acidic wine. The white wine comes from Galicia, Spain, and parts of Portugal. Though, Albarino grows in other regions worldwide.
Albarino is like Chardonnay because of the same aromas and flavors, such as tangerine, peach, and melon. Some Albarino can have a slight taste of saline.
Pinot Grigio alternatives share the crisp and refreshing quality.
Here is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s most well-known and famous wines. The white wine has a low carbon dioxide level, making a fresh sparkle. Typically, you’ll find a Vinho Verde below 11 percent ABV.
This grape is a cousin to Pinot Grigio. A white grape, Pinot Blanc, has neutral aromas, refreshing and crispy. The Blanc leans toward a full-bodied wine with more mineral flavors, with the Grigio fruitier.
Some winemakers will age the Pinot Blanc in oak, making it taste like a Chardonnay.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which came first: Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio?
Chardonnay originated in 1330 when Cistercian monks planted Chardonnay grapes within their Abby.
Pinot Grigio came initially from Burgundy, France, in the Middle Ages, called Fromenteau. Then, the grape extended to Switzerland in the 1300s with Pinot Noir.
Is Chardonnay stronger than Pinot Grigio?
Alcohol By Volume, Chardonnay is stronger than Pinot Grigio. Chardonnay ranges from 13.5 to 15 percent. Pinot Grigio varies from 11.5 to 13.5 percent.
Is Chardonnay more popular than Pinot Grigio?
Yes. Chardonnay has 31 percent of the wine market, whereas Pinot Grigio has 21 percent of the share.